By: Shakiel Humayun
Soft occasional sounds of a helicopter flying overhead ripple through the clear skies. Millions of people have gathered in the afternoon desert air. Wherever you turn, people are engrossed in prayer communicating to the Lord of the universe. This is Arafah. We are at Hajj.
Hajj is a series of acts of worship that have profound symbolism. The symbolism is multi-dimensional. It encompasses place, time, and enactment. Place, like the actual place where Ibrahim built the kabah or where his wife, Hajar, walked in search for resources. Time, like in one of the four sacred months, Dhul-hijjah, which also happens to be the last month of the year - a perfect time for making resolutions. Enactment, like the temporary stay in Muzdalifah without accommodations that symbolizes our temporary stay in this world, since we also come into this world and leave it without any accommodations.
It's important for the pilgrim to focus on these many symbolisms and avoid being distracted by the weather or other matters. Allah instructs us to look deeper into the acts of Hajj and not take them as mere rituals. Regarding the sacrifice He says:
"Their meat will not reach Allah, nor will their blood, but what reaches Him is piety from you. Thus have We subjected them to you that you may glorify Allah for that which He has guided you; and give good tidings to the doers of good". [Quran 22:37]
The enactment is a unique form of worship not done anywhere else. It also remedies desensitization of important events in our history. From childhood, Muslims read about the struggle of Hajar for resources for her son Ismael. However, when one actually walks between Safa and Marwa seven times, one gets a greater appreciation of this great woman's dedication and reliance on Allah.
The enactment also serves as a visual of the many messages of Hajj . Take for example the stoning of the wall, which symbolizes the repelling of satan. Everyone could have stoned a wall or a mountain close to their tent, but instead Allah draws out millions of pilgrims to come to a specified location for this stoning. This displays that the repelling of Satan is not to be just an individual effort but also a communal one. We see the concept of repelling Satan in numbers in the words of our Prophet when he spoke about riders on a travel:
"One is a satan. Two are two satans. Three are riders." [Sahih al-Jami]
As pilgrims walk up close to the wall they hear hundreds of pebbles being pelted towards the wall. Pilgrims become cautious not to be hit by a flying pebble, some even cringe, as they get closer. The pilgrim with this behavior is reminded to remain at guard against satan just as they are at guard against the oncoming pebbles, and to not fall for satan's sneaky traps. Allah mentions this phenomenon:
"O you who have believed, do not follow the footsteps of Satan." [Quran 24:21]
Even after stoning, walking out of the area, the pilgrim still keeps the guarded disposition as pebbles are still flying towards the wall. One should not declare victory if they have repelled satan once, but should always remain guarded. Since satan may attempt to attack again, the pilgrim after the first stoning continues to walk to the next wall for another stoning to complete a total of 3 walls per day.
The pilgrim begins his rites of Hajj with a Tawaf and ends the rites of Hajj with a Tawaf. As the pilgrim circles the Kabah at both times, he realizes that his life is to revolve around the worship of Allah from its beginning to its end.
While Hajj in recent decades was considered by many to be an action done at an older age, recently many younger people have embarked on this journey indicating a spiritual revival in the ummah. The successful pilgrim, however, is the one who absorbs the messages and symbolisms of Hajj where it causes a real change in his or her life.